South Carolina’s month largely on the road has come to an end. The Gamecocks return to Williams-Brice Stadium, where they will play their next five games.
Texas A&M is the first to come to Columbia at 4 p.m. ET Saturday (SEC Network). We take a look at 5 key things for the Gamecocks against the Aggies:
1. Get the ball on the perimeter
It’s pretty simple for South Carolina. Its best offensive moments against Kentucky came with quick passes to the edge to put the ball in the hands of playmakers.
The matchup with Texas A&M screams the need for the same attack. The Aggies have one of the best pairs of defensive ends in the nation. South Carolina’s pass blocking has been up and down, though improving a bit recently. Add in Brandon McIlwain’s struggles throwing the ball downfield and A&M’s good safeties, it makes sense for the Gamecocks to employ quick passes to Hayden Hurst, Bryan Edwards and Deebo Samuel, assuming Samuel does play.
2. Sustain drives
Three-and-outs and short drives have plagued the South Carolina offense through four games. The Gamecocks opened with two three-and-outs against Kentucky, then two drives that covered fewer than 20 yards. All in all, USC had seven of its 11 drives against Kentucky go for 20 yards or less.
Texas A&M comes in with an explosive offense led by quarterback Trevor Knight and a bevy of great receivers. The Gamecocks will be in a better position if they can limit the Aggies possessions and opportunities to score. There’s no better way to do that than long drives that end in points — it would just take getting that done with consistency for the first time this season.
3. Stop leaving points on the field
South Carolina has a small margin for error and that is going to be more apparent now that the schedule gets tougher. Did it play well enough to beat Kentucky? Probably not. But a roughing the punter penalty and a block in the back on a punt return touchdown led to a Kentucky field goal and a touchdown called back.
The Gamecocks did net a field goal after T.J. Brunson’s block in the back penalty brought back Rashad Fenton’s touchdown. So, that’s a 7-point swing in a 7-point game. Those are the mistakes South Carolina can’t have.
4. Bend but don’t break raised a notch
The South Carolina defense took the approach of bend, but don’t break against East Carolina. It was executed well to the tune of lots of yards and few points.
The Gamecocks face a similar offense with the Aggies, a fast-paced, high-powered attack that brings more explosive playmakers to the table.
The Gamecocks once again will be looking to bend, but not break. It will just be much harder to pull off this time with the likes of Christian Kirk, Ricky Seals-Jones and company on the perimeter to deal with against Texas A&M.
5. Home sweet home
South Carolina’s best performance of the season came at Williams-Brice in a 20-15 win against East Carolina. The Gamecocks are home for the second time Saturday and will stay in Columbia for the month of October.
They can channel some energy from the home fans and enjoy the comforts of playing at home as they look to pull off a big upset.